The Writing Center featured some changes in response to student feedback when its doors opened Monday, Aug. 30.
There’s new furniture, for one.
“I think the biggest surprise is going to be how the Writing Center looks this year,” Student Director Jessica Menkin said.
Large desks used to occupy the space.
“It just felt really authoritative and not like a tutoring session,” Menkin said.
But now a round table and computer workspaces replace the previous setup.
“Instead of feeling like an office, it feels like a Writing Center should feel.” Menkin said, “It’s a welcoming atmosphere.”
The Writing Center, according to the Mills College website, is staffed by English Department MA and MFA candidates who help Mills students—undergraduate and graduate alike—develop strong writing skills.
Tutor Diana Turken said students are welcome to come in for any writing assignment at any stage of process “—from the bare bones to the polishing at the end.”
Raquel Fay, another tutor, said students’ work won’t be done for them, but the grad students who work at the Writing Center will “help you get to the next level in your writing, be an extra set of eyes and kind of train you to do it yourself for the next time.”
While a student can write on her or his own with a copy of The MLA Handbook or a good reference website, the Writing Center adds a human touch.
“You can’t really have a dialogue with your computer or MLA book” said Turken. “But we’re people. You’re able to come to a place where there are people, who are kind of having—or had—the same experience as you, who can discuss things, work things out.”
Menkin said a student’s Writing Center experience would involve more than just sitting down with a tutor and working.
“There’s coffee offered. There are treats,” said Menkin. “We’re going to get stress balls, so if you’re freaking out you can squeeze that stress ball while you’re working on your paper.”
The coffee, treats and friendly furniture are all part of the Writing Center’s new look and feel this fall. Menkin said the changes won’t stop there. Students can look forward to a Writing Center blog, which would feature online grammar lessons. Next semester, there are plans to give workshops on MLA citation, grammar and writing personal statements for graduate school applications.
These changes have been initiated in response to students’ written feedback, the good and the bad. For instance, Menkin said, students complained that 30-minute tutor sessions were too short, so the sessions have increased to 45 minutes this fall.
So far the changes seem to be working really well, Menkin said.
“Our tutors are really, really anxious to help students,” she said. “They’re really excited about working with them.”
Even so, some students might not stop by the Writing Center anytime soon.
Maya Harary, a transfer student, hasn’t heard of the Writing Center and thinks she might not need the resource. She’s nearly done with her general ed requirements and now takes all biology classes.
“Just because I don’t have any English classes in my future and I already consider myself a pretty good writer,” she said, “I probably wouldn’t go to the Writing Center. The tutoring I need is definitely more technical stuff.”
But Harary still thinks it’s great that the Writing Center is there. “It’s really helpful for anyone who’s second-guessing their work, just to have another person looking at it, whether or not it’s a tutor.”
Sophomore Llesenia Bolorin, on the other hand, said there should be more faculty involvement when students tutor other students.
Although she hasn’t used the Writing Center, Bolorin has worked with an on-campus peer tutor for another subject.
“The peer tutor was as helpful as she could be,” Bolorin said, “but it felt like she could only go to a certain extent.”
Bolorin said tutors are still students themselves. “They’re still interpreting (the material) more or less from my perspective. But when that question gets stuck, the person still leaves stuck. And that’s not fun. Maybe just having a professor on hand would help.”
Still, Bolorin likes knowing that the Writing Center is there if she needs it–though she doesn’t need it right now. “I’m not writing thesis papers or anything huge,” she said. “I don’t feel intimidated by my work yet, and that’s what people go there for, right, help with writing. You know, I haven’t been.”
Franchesca White, English MA candidate, hasn’t been either, but she’s had some good experiences with tutoring at the other colleges she’s been to. And she’ll definitely use the Writing Center at Mills.
“I have to start writing a thesis,” White said. “I have to start writing 20-page essays. Even if my peers are tutoring me, their feedback is going to be very important to me.”
Fay, White’s peer back at the Writing Center, acknowledged that everyone experiences fear when it comes to writing. “It’s personal. It’s your baby. It’s something you’ve come up with. It’s always hard getting advice, needing help or maybe sometimes stepping back from your own work.”
Fay said she has that problem too.
“I think the important thing to emphasize is that we don’t judge. “We’re not that scary. I promise.”
For more information about the Writing Center, visit www.mills.edu/student_services/writing_center